A few things you may want to be aware of when buying coffee bean, beware of their labels!
GRADE The word grade is very important in the commercial world, but in the specialty world it is rare to use for flavour or quality. Most regions use grading terms to indicate size of the beans. The grade does not assess the bean ripeness a picking or taste-related qualities.
ORGANIC For a product to be labeled “organic” in the United States, it must meet a set of standards set by the U.S. Department of Agriculture: the beans must be grown using no synthetic pesticides or other prohibited substances for at least three years and the farm must follow a sustainable crop rotation plan. Many places around the world have different requirements. The organic label is not very significant especially if in order to get this “organic” certification, it costs about $300 a year. Most coffee farms in developing countries earn about $1,000 / year, which automatically excludes smaller family farms.
SUSTAINABLE FARMING This means the farmer has has a balanced view towards chemicals. Sustainability is difficult to standardize and certify because each farm requires individual, thoughtful accommodations.
FAIR TRADE This generally means a third party oversees the agreement and interactions between seller and buyer to ensure that seller (farmers), in coffee’s case (earn a fair price). Note that most fair trade organizations only certify cooperatives, not individual farms. This does not mean individual farms don’t practice fair business or treat their workers well.
DIRECT TRADE This is new in the coffee industry which implies a personal relationship between roaster or coffee buyer (not consumer) and farmer.
BIRD-FRIENDLY / SHADE GROWN Some of these coffee trees offer birds seasonal habitat. Bird-friendly coffee benefits coffee flavour and birds. This also means certification that a farm uses no synthetic chemicals. The cost of this certification is yield; a bird-friendly farm yields approximately 1/3 less per year. Lack of this label does not automatically mean the coffee is unfriendly to birds or poor quality beans.
Q-GRADING This is established by the Specialty Coffee Association of America’s Coffee Quality Institute, a standard for grading and trading coffee. The quality part of Q-grading is a label that consumers can use to find good quality and sustainable, fair labor practices in their beans.
ESTATE COFFEE Estate (aka plantation) which means production by a single farm. The right farm uses careful, consistent growing, picking, and processing methods. Some of the most unique coffees come from individual farms.
DRY/ WET PROCESSED COFFEE This refers to how beans get processed, this can affect the coffee’s overall taste. There’s two methods, dry and wet processing. Dry processing is the original method still practiced in many regions worldwide, particularly near coffee’s birthplace Ethiopia. This process requires picked cherries to dry out on a sun-exposed surface (a flat rooftop), causing the skin and fruit to become brittle and easy to remove. This is fine as long as it gets turned regularly to avoid scorched top layers and moldy bottom. The dry process represents the purest of a coffee bean and its terroir, offering nothing but the bean’s flavour as nature grew it. Wet processing of these cherries require large body of water to soften by machine then mechanically removes the seed. The soft fruit peels away and floats as the seeds (beans) sink to the bottom. The flesh gets discarded or composted, the seeds are dried using the natural method (sun). The beans can dry out too much if not watched carefully with this method.